Malacañang defends late suspension of classes, 'imminent threat' claim
MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang defended President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to suspend classes on Tuesday, March 20, amid claims that it was based on "fake news," and criticism that it was announced late, and unnecessarily interfered with students' exam week.
The suspension was made public only around 10:20 am on Tuesday, when students were already in school, and some were possibly taking their exams.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the suspension was announced late because it was approved by Duterte only early that morning, after attending a National Security Council (NSC) meeting.
"I think this is because the meeting of the NSC Executive Committee lasted until 3 [am]," Roque said during a Palace news briefing.
Roque was also asked about the wording of his announcement about the suspension.
Some, including Senator Nancy Binay, found Roque's use of the phrase "imminent threat" as reason for the class suspension, to be unnecessarily panic-inducing.
"That imminent threat arises when our students don't have any transportation to ride. That is what we are trying to avoid. The President won't hesitate to suspend classes again if they threaten to hold a transport strike," Roque said in Filipino, explaining his choice of words.
Does it concern Malacañang that the class suspension disrupted exam week for some schools?
"Public safety or convenience is the paramount consideration. Everything else, even final examinations, can wait," said Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra.
Pressed further about what kind of threat could be posed by a transport strike, Roque said the lack of public transportation could force students to walk, thereby endangering their safety.
"If the youth cannot get any ride, they might have to walk, and when you walk, many things could happen," he said in Filipino.
Propaganda vs Piston?
Malacañang cited the supposed transport strike of the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston) as the basis for the class suspension.
Piston national president George San Mateo, however, said the group was not holding any strike on Tuesday – a point he made clear as early as Monday, March 19, when Roque said Malacañang was considering a weeklong class suspension because of the supposed transport strike.
The Piston leader accused Malacañang of insisting on the class suspension to "fan public hatred" against transportation groups that joined the strike on Monday.
On Tuesday, Roque said Duterte was just covering all the bases since he was not sure of Piston's exact plans for that day.
"We don't know what Piston plans. They even announced it would last for a week. They were threatening to hold more strikes so the President is just making sure," said Roque.
Responding to San Mateo's claim that it was propaganda against transport groups, Roque said: "I don't know what tactics they are talking about. We are just taking care of the students."
This is not the first time Malacañang has had to defend a class suspension declaration.
In October 2017, Malacañang had to explain to the public why it chose to impose a two-day government work and class suspension.
At the time, Palace officials cited the need to minimize public inconvenience caused by a nationwide transport strike even if the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board had said the protest action "barely affected the riding public." – Rappler.com